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Prep Football First Look: Portal Panthers

Region: 3A-A
Head Coach: David NeSmith (3rd season, 7-13)
Last Season: 1-9, 0-5 (6th, Region 3A-A)
2012 Postseason: None
Key Losses: Corey Reese, DE; Tanner Brown, OL/DL
Key Returners: Evan Street, QB; Casey Jones, RB/LB, Jameson Mikell

2012 Regular Season Results
Southeast Bulloch        L 6-21
Tattnall County        L 0-35
Johnson County        L  0-35
Emanuel County Inst.    L  0-48
Jenkins County        L  6-28
Claxton            L  6-43
Savannah Christian    L  0-35
Sav. Country Day        L  22-40
Calvary Day        L  0-49
Glascock County        W  26-6

2013 Schedule
Aug. 30    Southeast Bulloch
Sept. 6    Tattnall County
Sept. 13    @ Johnson County
Sept. 20    BYE
Sept. 27    Emanuel County Institute
Oct. 4    Jenkins County*
Oct. 11    @ Claxton*
Oct. 18    Savannah Christian*
Oct. 25    @ Savannah Country Day*
Nov. 1    Calvary Day*
Nov. 8    Region 3-A play-in

    The 2012 season was a rough one for the Portal Panthers.
    In addition to enduring a 1-9 record, Portal — with one of the smallest enrollments of any football-playing GHSA school — faced the usual challenge of a small roster. That issue was only compounded by a rash of injuries that left the Panthers with fewer than 20 players dressing out for games for most of the season.
    But for all of the negatives that the program endured, the offseason has helped to turn the page and get the Panthers back on the right track.
    “Last year was a tough one. No doubt about it,” Portal coach David Nesmith said. “We took our lumps, but we got through it. We’ve been hard at work since the season ended and we’ve had a lot of guys doing all they can to get bigger, stronger, and better for this season.”
    Rising seniors Casey Jones and Jameson Mikell have set the standard for the Panthers. The pair showed their value on the field last season and have taken that leadership into the weight room this summer as neither has missed a workout.
    With many of Portal’s players participating in other sports throughout the summer, it is always tough to find time for football-specific workouts during the summer. But baseball and basketball summer leagues are now winding down, giving Nesmith a chance to ramp up the offseason activities.
    Portal participated with Bulloch Academy, Southeast Bulloch, Statesboro, and Robert Toombs Academy on Tuesday at Bulloach Academy’s passing league.
    The Panthers will return to Gator Alley for more friendly competition each Tuesday for the next two weeks.
    “It’s time for us to get going,” Nesmith said. “I tell everyone that we’re all going to be on the same page going into the regular season. They can either pay the price with all of this hard work in the summer, or they can make it up when fall practice starts. I’m glad to see that so many guys are willing to show up for these summer workouts.”
    In addition to a solid work ethic, the Panthers should have a much more populated sideline when the season rolls around.
    In 2011, 15 seniors graduated from a team of 31 and just eight players from that squad returned in 2012. This time around, nearly the entire roster is coming back and will be joined by a promising group of freshmen.
    “We’re planning on having a JV squad this year,” Nesmith said. “That will be a first for us since I’ve been here. That will give our younger guys some good experience and prepare them better for when we need them to help the varsity. It will definitely help us get to where we want to go.”